Sunday, April 5, 2020 9:21 am
Fiction, faction and presidential marabouts as COVID-20
By Festus Adedayo
In discussing the above topic, permit me to begin from a seemingly intangible occurrence that happened during the week that just ended. Yoruba Waka music singer, Salawa Abeni caused a stir on the information highway last Wednesday when she released her own nude pictures on social media. The 58-year-old musician was being blackmailed by a certain Jason who threatened to expose her nude pictures. Abeni thus decided to share the pictures with the world, even before her blackmailer could. I will get back to this later.
“Good morning my Family, Friends, and Fans… someone somewhere (tried) to tarnish my image and threaten(ed) to destroy my career of over 45 years… (by) expos(ing) very old pictures of me and in the process, blackmailing me for money. These could’ve been pictures of me in the hospital or even with my partner…I am almost 60 years old, I have worked very hard and made a name for myself… this is very sad. So I have decided to share the messages and pictures sent by this person with everyone for you all to see!…For you the blackmailer, I refuse to be bullied by you as I’m sure that I’m old enough to be your MOTHER!!” Queen Salawa had written.
Also during the week, Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka, incurred the ire of the Nigerian presidency for his criticism of President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to lock-down FCT, Lagos and Ogun so as to curtail the spread of COVID-19. He had sarcastically submitted that Buhari, who was ostensibly forced to address Nigerians after sledge-hammer-like criticisms of his silence, even as the virus ravaged Nigeria, had just woken up from a long slumber. This comment had hardly been made by the time Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, launched a rude riposte. Soyinka was better ignored, Shehu said, because he had no expertise in health and science.
“Soyinka is not a medical professor. His qualifications are in English literature, and his prizes are for writing books and plays for theatres. He is of course entitled to his opinions – but that is exactly all they are: semantics, not science. They cannot – and should not – therefore be judged as professional expertise in this matter in any shape or form…We ask the people of Nigeria to trust the words of our doctors and scientists, and not fiction writers at this time of national crisis,” Shehu had said.
On the appropriacy of Soyinka’s suggestion, as against the decision of the presidency to lock down strategic states. I am on the same queue with Buhari in this circumstance. The coronavirus has caused a global stampede of concerns, with the city of New York recording 562 deaths in 24 hours last week. Since the virus does not walk from one person to the other, only a lockdown of movement could restrict its fury. However, that is the only place I hold a convergence of thoughts with Buhari. Unlike all over the world, Nigeria is afflicted by a queer work and chop economy where citizens can only eat if they work daily. Cloning a remedy that works in saner countries of the world in Nigeria will no doubt boomerang.
Government’s claim of distributing N5billion within few days to persons it tagged Poorest of the Poor has received cynical reviews and infectious pessimism from Nigerians who sought to know what constitutes such a definition. In a country that is ravaged by political elite’s massive theft of common patrimony, where government commissars feed fat on the afflictions of Nigerians, the belief is that presidency’s men just wanna chop. With no data base, nil statistics and based on a mere kick-and-follow mop-up of figures adduced from the whims of the operators, which prudency cannot be tracked, the view on the streets is that Buhari’s Poorest of the Poor is an avenue to siphon Nigeria’s cash into the bottomless pits of politically exposed persons’ oesophagus.
During the week too, an apparently fake news of the passage of Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, gained currency on the social media. Kyari, who had tested positive to the coronavirus, is currently sequestered in God-knows-where. While government claimed that he was receiving treatment in an infirmary in Lagos, an official of the Lagos government said he could not be accounted for in Lagos. In the thick of this, all manner of postulations emerged as to his whereabouts. Someone claimed he had been spotted at a London hospital, same medical facility Buhari holes up to treat an undisclosed ailment. The question then becomes, even as it locked up Nigeria’s airspace, how was Kyari ferried out to the UK while ordinary Nigerians afflicted by same ailment are left to stew in their broths?
Permit me to ad-lib: As Almighty homo sapiens is sobered by the unmitigated fury and indescribable capacity of an ordinary virus to take humanity down completely, country after country and indeed, in every enclave where he is clustered, humankind is devising several approaches to proclaim self a higher animal than animals. Since its evolvement in East Africa some 2.5 million years ago, from a genus of ape that evolutionists call Southern Ape, homo sapiens has sought to show that with its jumbo brain, walking upright as against its ape family that walks on all fours, its ability to think faster and its inventions, it is a higher animal than its primate ancestors. But an ordinary, tiny virus which is even invisible to the eyes, is bringing about the beast in man, pointing out the futility of homo sapiens’ attempt to claim superiority of any kind. From America, China, to Britain, Germany and indeed all over the world, the coronavirus is demystifying man, deconstructing the myth of its inventions and is revealing that man is titillated by same mundane things that excite his Ape cousins. Nigeria’s version of this descent is my bother today.
A rebound of government’s action of locking people at home without feeling the pulse of their personal existential disposition is already manifest. In Warri, Delta State on Thursday, a young man identified as Joseph Pessu, was shot dead by some soldiers who flagged his Toyota Camry down to no avail. In virtually every other place where there is lockdown, people are already reasoning like those four biblical Samarian lepers at the entrance of the city gate who, faced with the option of a lockdown and its attendant hunger and a perceived footfall of rampaging soldiers, wisely chose to look for food. “Why just sit here until we die? If we say, ‘Let us go into the city,’ we will die there from the famine in the city; but if we sit here, we will also die. So come now, let us go over to the camp of the Arameans. If they let us live, we will live; if they kill us, we will die.” That seems to be the choice of already hungry Nigerians between hunger and coronavirus. Nigerians find it objectionable that a government that had been variously absent in their lives is one now legislating their convenience.
Now, Queen Salawa Abeni and the trope which disclosure of her attempted blackmail portends. Nigerian governments are run like some Ogboni fraternity covens where faithful are sworn to some oath of secrecy. Government after government see disclosure as an anathema, provoking beliefs that this is primed to achieve a selfish and sinister end. Budgets, finances, spendings, socials, health and what-have-you are shawled in dirty aprons of secrecy, away from the people they govern. While mature democracies give minute details of such, of course, except ones that verge of national security, Nigerian governments securitize every national issue. It is a shame for instance that up till now, no Nigerian can tell what ails Buhari who eloped from the radar of governance for multiple weeks a couple of years ago. It is also a greater shame that nationals of foreign countries who attended to him in his infirmary and their governments have minutest details of Buhari’s ailment while his people don’t. So, when government talks about protecting national security, what could be worse than a president whose detailed health status is in the hands of the ‘enemies’?
Nigerians know that if not for the futility of the quest, the Buhari government would have veiled Kyari’s coronavirus status. So when Nigerians, in baffling exhilaration, celebrated the “death” of Kyari last week, they were responding to a stimulus provoked by perceived closure of information. By her disclosure, Queen Abeni didn’t just stave off her blackmailer, she courted the empathy of the people. In the same vein, Nigerians know that Buhari, Kyari or anyone at the top, is made of flesh and blood like the homo sapiens next door; they know these persons poo-poo like anyone else and their poo-poo smells badly like theirs. They know that they fall to the existential blows of ill health and will die like every one of us. If adequately explained to them, Nigerians will understand why Kyari, who is said to be the engine room of government, needs to be quickly ferried abroad for urgent treatment. So, why then would anyone want to make a Superman of them?
This is why Shehu’s doggerel against Soyinka is at best, faction. Faction in literature is a portmanteau of “fact” and “fiction.” The question to ask him is, what linkage exists between Soyinka’s statement and his descent into cants of medicine, science and fiction? Do you have to be scientific and medical to be able to see disconnect in a lockdown and people’s economic situation? And, what was Shehu trying to prove by his theaterization of Soyinka’s accomplishments? If his boss – Buhari – and Soyinka go on a voyage to important public places in the world, wouldn’t the Daura souza – apologies to Ken Saro-Wiwa’s Souza Boy – be thought to be Soyinka’s batman? So what is Shehu’s frenzy?
An admixture of the people’s anger at a government that exists for its cronies; one which, in its very before, the lives the people live are replica of, in the words of Jamaican Reggae music crooner, Max Romeo, a “one step forward, two steps backwards,” and a government where official lies are deployed to dress inefficiency and insincerity, are the order of the day. Presidential media men have thus become the marabouts assumed to possess supernatural powers to heal the disdain with which the people hold inept governments. They dish out sophistries, lies and insult icons whose views unwrap the veil that covers the limp manhood of their non-performing principals. They are equivalent to the coronavirus that afflicts us in 2020.
General Adeniyi and medallions of treachery
Nigeria literally quaked, again last week. Coinciding with the time Boko Haram insurgents reportedly ambushed and snuffed lives off about 70 Nigerian soldiers, the sobriety of the ravaging COVID-19 literally muffled the people’s voices. So when a trending video of General Olusegun Adeniyi, Major-General and Commander of Operation Lafiya Dole, appeared on the social media, with his logical and water-tight complaints of poor equipment of troops, he became an instant hero.
General Adeniyi’s bravery was indeed fascinating. He said he didn’t mind to be videoed and publicly gave remedies to the embarrassing Boko Haram rampage, one of which was to situate a military helicopter right among the troops, so that they wouldn’t have to go caps in hand to the Airforce whenever there was the need to shell the ranks of the bloodsucking vermin. Sandwiched between his troops on the battlefield, Adeniyi lamented that the insurgents were gaining upper hands in the battle as they shelled his men with sophisticated mortar bombs and artillery, ambushed his men at will, resulting in heavy casualty of soldiers. He also attributed these casualties to wrong intelligence given the troops by military authorities. For an army that harvests the lives of its troops as toads of war, a la Eddy Iroh’s Toads of War, this disclosure was akin to a death sentence.
Commendations for Adeniyi’s gallant courage and patriotism had hardly died down by the time Army authorities, smart by half, infuse his name in a list of deployment of high-ranking officers. In doing this, the Army sought to routinize the order for Adeniyi to swap position from April 1, 2020. but no one was fooled that the General, who hit the knife’s blade on its head, was the exclusive target. Adeniyi was deployed to the Nigerian Army Resource Centre, Abuja, as “a Research fellow” and replaced at Lafiya Dole with Yahaya F., a Major General, who was deployed from 1 Division Army Headquarters in Kaduna.
So many Nigerian soldiers have been offered as propitiations to the weird decision of the Buhari government to keep security chiefs, years after their deemed retirement and obvious ideas-rustiness. This came in the thick of globally-trending allegation of absence of adequate equipment to fight the dreaded insurgents. More importantly is the allegation that insurgents’ moles are right within the Army top echelon, leaking information for cash against the troops. When Adeniyi reportedly held his orderly as one who leaked the video, the allegation against the military seemed to have acquired a life of its own. These allegations are held to be why military authorities cannot stand the presence of globally acclaimed NGOs operating in the North-East who access such information at the flip of their fingers.
Chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Tukur Yusuf Buratai and the Army may have succeeded in silencing Adeniyi but the General has harvested medals in the hearts of Nigerians for speaking out. When the story of the Boko Haram war is written, Adeniyi will surely harvest his deserved medals and his adversaries, medallions of treachery against their country.